Our industry is predicated on relationships and the ability to meet each other face-to-face. To this day, even after the pandemic and the emergence of alternate forms of communication, the value of face-to-face conversation is still worth its weight in gold.

And while it most certainly is great catching up with industry friends, customers, colleagues, etc., it has been well-established the networking component of sharing best practices/trials and tribulations with industry brethren also holds significant value.

ASA has seen that firsthand with the popularity of what we call our best practices roundtable sessions. These usually hour-long sessions, where ASA members (typically a mix of distributors, manufacturers and reps at a particular table) share their boots-on-the-ground experiences, gained original traction with our Emerging Leaders group and its annual EMERGE conference. Those in New Orleans in May for EMERGE2022 got a strong dose of how powerful and valuable those best practices sessions are.

The networking component of your ASA membership has never provided more value. When you have the chance, take full advantage of it.

Along the way, due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received, those sessions have been incorporated into various other ASA events, including the very well-received Great Ideas Roundtable Sessions at NETWORK2021 in Las Vegas last November (they will be returning to Chicago this November), and most recently at the successful revival of the ASA Northeast Summit annual conference in Philadelphia.

“As always, I find the roundtable piece of the conference valuable,” one executive of a Northeast-based distributor told me after attending the Northeast Summit in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, some 100 attendees sat down on a recent Wednesday morning for a 75-minute best practices session. Prior to the conference, I sent out a survey asking attendees what topics they would like to talk about at the roundtable session. The response was overwhelming and there was no way all the topics submitted would be able to be broached in such a compact timeframe.

But what did come out of that Philadelphia session was a bevy of highly usable intel. I asked each of the table captain leaders to shoot me some notes on what their tables talked about.

Some Philly table captain highlights:

  • Labor is the biggest pain point;
  • The open order pipeline is larger than ever;
  • Some companies are utilizing outsource businesses such as Parts Runner and Uber to fill the delivery gap;
  • Customers are more interested in technical training sessions or field support;
  • Showrooms staying busy, but single order values are declining;
  • Challenges in trying to get material from ports on imports;
  • Outside sales will remain a significant and relevant part of the business. Distributors will need to find ways to broaden the expertise of their sales staff through additional training or mentoring, including working more closely with manufacturers and reps on joint sales calls;
  • Attempting to do more intermodal transportation to alleviate issues stemming from trucking shortages;
  • Compensation levels of inside vs. outside sales staff should be reviewed to address the real or perceived inequity as it relates to keys to success;
  • Contractor engagement: Expertise, in-person and the threat from online outlets is real;
  • Reps and manufacturers are spending more time creating demand for their products with engineers and specifiers, including spending more time on the commercial side;
  • Just-in-time delivery is dead; and
  • Education/training: Needs support from senior leadership; Compensation structure tied partially to training.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Another hit this year at two of our regional meetings (SWPD in the Palm Springs area in March and ASA Northeast in Philly) and at EMERGE in New Orleans was the state of the industry panel discussion where a panel of channel partners answered attendee-submitted questions.

Both the SWPD and ASA Northeast state of the industry panels featured a twist with a local contractor added to the roster of interviewees. Bryan Stuckert, of Bryan Stuckert Plumbing in the Philadelphia area, provided an outstanding perspective from a contractor’s point of view to ASA Northeast attendees on anything from relationships with distributors to where he sees the industry and the construction market headed. We’ll have more on these state-of-the-industry panels in the near future.

The networking component of your ASA membership has never provided more value. When you have the chance, take full advantage of it.